Tale of ‘woeful celebrations’

Why to exhaust energies in weakening centre-state relationship?

Sajad Bazaz
Srinagar, Publish Date: Aug 18 2017 11:52PM | Updated Date: Aug 18 2017 11:52PM
Tale of ‘woeful celebrations’File Photo

Celebrating birthdays was very rare during our childhood days. But it was always exceptional in the month of August on two counts as like any other Indian, celebrating August 15 was my dream day. First, it was India’s independence day and being part of school independence day contingent was enthralling. Second, August 15 celebrations were coinciding with my birthday. So, it used to be a special and proud feeling for me on this day, at least among my classmates. 

But things changed and took ugly turn. August 15 celebrations abruptly lost its sheen here in 1989 as this day got a new tagline - ‘black day’. Even after 28 years, Independence Day celebration still remains a big challenge for the security agencies. And celebrating ‘freedom day’ today under the cover of curbs and restrictions symbolizes a constant reminder that Kashmir still craves for solution even after 70 years of independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947.

Now, challenging the foundation of centre-state relationship by demanding abrogation of the Article 35 A of the Indian constitution has further waned the trust in the relationship. Here revisiting the contours of conflict merits a mention. At a time when the independence of India and Pakistan in August 1947 was overshadowed by unforgettable trauma of partition, our state, comprising Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions, was all the more complicated. A Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, ruled the state despite it being a Muslim-majority state. 

Initially, the Maharaja was for 'outright independence', but in October 1947 he signed the Instrument of Accession to India. Tribal 'raiders' from Pakistan ‘voluntarily’ entered the Kashmir Valley and annexed a part of it which Pakistan calls ‘Azad Kashmir’ and for India it’s ‘Pak Occupied Kashmir’.

A parallel group from Gilgit quickly captured Skardu (Baltistan) and marched on to Leh. But Indian reinforcements defended Leh. Later the ceasefire line imposed in January 1949 cut off Ladakh and Baltistan from each other ever since and the region is today well known as Northern Area.

This ‘forced annexation’ of the state was challenged through various sessions of uprisings, but equally suppressed till 1989 when first time in the history of Kashmir, Kashmiri youth took to arms what they called ‘liberation of Kashmir movement’. After 28 years the separatist movement is refusing to die short of their ‘goal’. The response of the state and central government agencies has only helped to drive the ‘movement’ instead of curbing it like they were doing in the past.

Kashmir has never come out of miseries. We have families whose bread earners have been consumed (still being consumed) by the conflict. We have innumerable children who lost (continue to lose) their parents during the turmoil and most of them are wandering as orphans for support to live and grow. We have old aged parents whose sons fell (are falling) to bullets and have no one at home to support them. And there are women called ‘half-widows’, as their husbands disappeared after they were picked up either by military, paramilitary and police personnel or by the unidentified gunmen.

However, the least focussed tale is of Ladakh region which almost remained isolated from this conflict situation. Even as Kargil war was one of the off shoots of the continuing resistance movement, the local populace evinced no interest in joining the separatist cry. During this period, it was the Ladakh which enjoyed autonomy. But what one missed during the period was the internal conflict within the region. Element of mistrust looming large in the region is decades old story. It has led to conflict which was off and on controlled but not eliminated. 

Unnoticed though, the political identity of Ladakh has today grown as a big issue. One community has remained engaged in strengthening their campaign for Union Territory status whereby Ladakh would be administered direct from New Delhi. Another segment has been pitching for Greater Ladakh aiming to include Gilgit, Skardu and Baltistan. 

Another unnoticed story in the region is that of protecting, restoring or reinventing Buddhism in Ladakh has today emerged as a big challenge for the Buddhists living there. The traditional Buddhist values stand threatened. Young generation of Buddhists who might once have become monks now have many other life-opportunities to choose from, and traditional Buddhist festivals now have to compete with the lure of entertainment industry. 

Meanwhile, instead of exhausting energies in weakening centre-state relationship, the authorities at the helm should find out why Kashmir has failed to emerge as one of the strongest economies in the country. 

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)